• body mass index;
  • obesity;
  • overweight;
  • reference value;
  • review;
  • waist circumference


Aim:  The study aims to undertake a narrative review examining the indices and references used for the assessment of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents in Australia. This review also summarises current international opinion on choice of indices and reference values.

Methods:  A systematic search for articles was conducted to examine indices and references used to define overweight and obesity in recent research studies carried out in Australia and published between January 2002 and January 2010.

Results:  Three hundred ninety papers were retrieved, of which 86 were reviewed. Body mass index (BMI) is the most common method used to measure overweight/obesity in children and adolescents in Australia. The International Obesity Task Force reference charts defining overweight and obesity for gender and age-specific BMI are the most widely used. Waist circumference and the waist-to-height ratio are indices used to determine central adiposity, but these are not yet in widespread use.

Conclusions:  Body mass index-for-age and -gender is the most common method used in Australia to measure overweight or obesity in children and adolescents and should be used for most future studies. As recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reference charts should be used for children aged 2–18 years. For children aged <2 years, there is a choice between an idealized standard (World Health Organization chart, based on breastfed infants) or a national standard (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chart, more suitable for formula-fed infants).